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Scientific methods

By Gretchen Salois

Instructors show students how to apply abstract concepts to welding projects

April 2012 - Lessons learned in the classroom can seem detached from real life. When a teacher is able to link textbook teachings to reality, students can see how important the metaphysical is to everyday objects, such as how heat melts metal and how a tool can harness that power to build useful things.

“I wanted to bridge the gap between the academic and technical to show my students that science is important to their future as well as the technical field,” says Randy Shewmaker, welding instructor, Franklin County Career and Technical Center Welding Department, Frankfort, Ky. “The students think they only need to be successful in their technical fields to make it in the real world, so I’ve set out to try and teach them that they need an academic as well as technical education.”

Shewmaker does this by engrossing students in a hands-on project based on general scientific concepts, most notably, Rubens’ Tube. “The Rubens’ Tube is a science project that shows students how sound waves (frequency) travel across the flames,” he says. “I thought by showing students this science project, it would get them interested in science, and by having them make the Rubens’ Tube, show them how to build and design a project from the beginning to the end.

“The students are great welders, but one thing they lack is the understanding that welding is just a small part of a project,” Shewmaker continues. “This taught them that they have to work on a timeline and think every step through before they start the project.”

Hands-on experience, understanding consequences
Kids are introduced to entry-level welding, an education that spans the four years of high school. “At the end, they end up becoming a certified welder. We use AWS D1.1 structure code,” Shewmaker says. “It’s a big accomplishment for them.”

Shewmaker teaches students with real-life examples. When working on a mezzanine, they must harness themselves and cut high beam and weld, just like on a real job site, he says. “We pick them apart regarding safety. If they drop something at 3 ft. off the ground, I take away the tool so they have to do the job without it or not finish and need to stop. Or if one forgets to harness up—they’ll die at 200 ft. up, so they are forced to put it in perspective. If a kid doesn’t harness, I treat it like he died on the job and now a three-man team is a two-man team to get the point across.”

The students use real blueprints and talk about the processes and chemical compounds used. “There’s a lot of science involved, especially when we talk about settling and how gases mix,” he says, noting he often uses examples such as how welders can add oxygen to propane or propylene to intensify the flame.

“Using propane for a gas grill is different from what welders need—by itself it won’t cut metal but if intensified with oxygen, it can be powerful enough to do the job,” Shewmaker says.

Shewmaker helps students understand the different plumbing, wiring, fabrication drill and sawing of metals as well as how to weld it together and assemble, “then actually using it in the right form with the safety factors so the kids see the project evolve from a concept to a final product,” he says.

Collaborative effort
Shewmaker’s welding class also collaborates with the school’s engineering program. “Engineers design the stuff in the real world and the welders actually build it,” he says. “So we work well together and have a guest speaker from the engineering department from the University of Kentucky come down and talk about how they designed it.”

The students had to go through a building materials list. “We got the measurements and students had to lay out the burners itself, take it over to the drill press and cut the 1/16-in.-diameter hose with 1-in. centers—the entire length of the [copper] pipe to actually make the burners.” The students then drilled and welded the burner using the drill press again.

“We used gas metal arc welding, MIG welding,” he says. “We had to make stands to hold the tube up.” Students then embarked on the plumbing aspect of the tube by performing leak tests, looking at all the connections and “wrung it up and hooked it to the regulator, get into the wiring portion of it, modify the speakers, silicone and have everything hooked up finally to an iPod.”

The design and actual fabrication of the tube allowed students to watch the flames dance. “Now, they could see the frequency we talked about in class and how we weld with different hertz,” Shewmaker says. “Now, they can see it in their minds because they know how it works, they’re the ones who have built it.” FFJ

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